A Different Sort Of Winter

At Elk Lake, Each season seems to take on a life of its own. Thus we've had the summer of rain, the winter of the wolves and so on. This winter, at least thus far, is definitely in the running for the most unique winter of our sojourn. In fact, we built our first ever ice skating rink. This year, too, has included much less sking and much more snowshoeing than ever before.

Dry, high-mountain snow does not lend itself easily to snowshoeing. I've heard some people rave about snowshoeing. Until this year I've never seen the draw. Why? Because snow shoes SINK in our powdery dry snow. In fact, even with our low snow conditions, it is still common to sink to your knees - and that makes for a great thigh workout!

The day started with sunlight streaming in the windows to accentuate the yummy goodness of fresh baked Poppy Seed Muffins. This is one of my favorite muffin recipes. It is also one of the stickiest, ichiest creations to get out of a muffin pan that I have every seen. However, with my new silicone bakeware - well, as you can see the end result is beautiful!

I am not a 'gun' person. I have never killed wild game (but I will definitely eat it). I have hunted. However, I prefer to hunt with a camera. However, with the increased bear encounters last summer / fall (definitely the summer of the grizzly), I asked for a handgun to pack alongside my bear spray on my hiking excursions. Here hubby tries it out. (And, if you're like me, and hate to fire a gun even for target practice - because I can't imagine it doesn't scare the animals who live in the vicinity - well, you'll be glad to know we saw nothing fresh but little critter tracks near our shooting range.)

The day was just too nice - to nice not to remember in pictures. And, since a family outing is 'typically' rare during on 'on' season, we had to record this privileged day.

I am always amazed at the beautiful things one can find if they look. Rabbit Brush, once the flowers have died, does not define 'beauty' in my eyes. However, with the sun rays highlighting the few remaining puffy seedheads and the last surviving dried flowers - well, I'd be glad for these 'flowers' to grace my table any day of the week.

As has been the 'norm' for so much of the winter, we found ourselves in the 'eye' of the storm. Clouds boiled and brewed in the distance, threatening something, but overhead our skies were blue and sunlight cast a rosy hew on the sagebrush. However, things really looked more like November than January!

While to our North the Madisons remained distinct, their backdrop darkened as we watched. For those of you who have enjoyed Gary Carter's "Elk Lake Divide", you might recognize the perspective. We are just up the hill from where he posed his mountain man.

Dropping down the hill off the saddle, we began our trek back to the lodge. Heavier tree cover only allowed peek-a-boo glimpses - but those we enjoyed were strikingly beautiful.

I wasn't the only one behind the camera this day. I wonder what I look like with a camera in my face :-)

Back down on the lake the wind was whipping the snow into a turmoil. The blowing snow turned our 'ice rink' and the bare ice around it into an frozen palate upon which the wind blew snowy patterns - highlighted by the sun's lengthening rays. It was incredibly beautiful to behold.

As I mentioned in my last post, one unexpected benefits found while removing the snow from the ice for our rink was the beauty of the ice we uncovered. However, even more beautiful things were revealed in the ice the wind unburdened. This was a 'natural' hole. In other words, this is over shallow water and the edges are too uneven for it to have been drilled. Perhaps an otter created it. What fascinated me, however, was the frozen bubbles of snow trapped in the clear ice. So caught up was I in the details, it took my daughter to point to its unique pig-like shape! (The marks on top were created by my son's snowshoes. Unfortunately he beat me to the spot!)

Further 'Ice Art' was revealed in other sections. For example, this photo contains some of the snow 'bubbles', a sampling of frozen water grass trapped in an icy grip, and a sampling of the various ice forms created by a natural lake.

This section intrigued me as well. The clear ice once again reveals snow bubbles (BTW the larger 'bubbles' were at least the size of quarter) and frozen lake weeds. However you can also see the vertical layers in the ice apparently created as it thickened and formed. The top and bottom photo edges show what we call 'crackle' ice - ice which had snow inbedded in it creating air bubbles which 'crackle' under pressure.

Heading back to the lodge, my eye was arrested by the sun's long rays fingering through the willows. Long shadows on pristine snow and red willow branches create as scene which, somehow, is incredibly peaceful.

The long light of a fading day is just too spectacular to be wasted. Thus as the others hurried for the warmth of the lodge, I looked around for ways to capture the beauty of this 'different' winter. My eye was arrested by this natural winter floral arrangement. The lovely evergreens backed by starkly white aspen bark punctuated by brilliant red rose hips and accentuated by the sun's last rays - ahhh - nature's beauty in full display.

And so, as this odd winter trudges past, we are finding reasons to rejoice the beauty outside our door - be it ice or snow or winter flowers! Each is a gift to be treasured - and I do!

Lady of the Lake


Trees - Flowers - And More

This may not be the time of year your mind turns naturally to the beautiful colors which carpet our hillsides throughout the summer, however, it has been a LONG time since I last posted on our local flora. In fact, I had a hard time finding my last post - mostly because I did not realize my last post was in 2008! August 27, 2008 to be exact. Way back then I challenged myself to see if I could find, photograph, and identify 100 unique species growing at or near Elk Lake. I made it to 50!

I did not stop because I ran out of specimens. In fact, the reasons were quite the opposite. I stopped because: One - I ran out of ‘easy-to-identify' specimens. Many plant families (Penstemons for example) feature many varieties. Furthermore, many plant identification photos are more confusing than helpful.

Two - I ran out of time. The harder the identification, the more time it takes. Add to that the time it takes to research interesting information about the plants, and the task just became too time consuming to continue during our busy season.

So I promised myself to return shortly. Just for the record, I do not typically define ‘shortly' as 2½ years! So, without further ado:


What I Already Knew: Hands down, the Quaking Aspen is my favorite tree. Even in the winter, their white, smooth bark is lovely. Their leaves, my favorite aspect, are nearly round flashing silver and green in the summer and lovely shades of yellow, orange and even red in the fall. They plants propagate via sprouts. They can take over if left alone, yet they can be choked out when evergreens deny them adequate sunlight.

What I Recently Learned: An important tree for wildlife, humans have also derived many benefits from this lovely tree which is a member of the willow family. Native Americans crushed the dried bark to mix with grain to eat. It has also been used for pain relief, fever reduction, and as a diuretic. Its properties work as an anti-oxidant and may help reduce inflamation. Other uses include as a digestive tonic or stimulant, treating diarrhea and bladder infection, and addressing other issues for issues related to the urinary tract.

All the trees in a ‘clonal colony' share a single root structure and identical characteristics. One colony in Utah named Pando, is considered to be the oldest and heaviest living organism on earth. It is estimated to weigh 6,600 TONS! and is said to be about 80,000 years old.


What I Already Knew: This upright perennial produces large clusters of small deep blue flowers. It is usually less than 16 inches tall, growing in a mat. Each of the plant's smooth, slender stems bears several pairs of opposing leaves. The flowers are typically intensely blue to purple.

What I Recently Learned: This Penstemon is found in much of the western United States. It tolerates hot and dry conditions. It is a favorite for flower gardens seeking to attract hummingbirds.

There are over 1900 known Penstemon species. Seeds for domestic cultivation were offered for sale in Europe as early as 1813. It is a very attractive flower which has become a favorite of flower gardeners - and we get to enjoy them for free. No work. No fuss. Just gorgeous flowers in our backyard!


What I Already Knew: This deciduous tree as alternate rounded leaves with toothed edges. Female catkins open to release seeds similar to the manner of many conifer cones - and the one often see what looks like tiny cones on the cones.

What I Recently Learned: This tree is a relative of the Birch. Early pioneers used the plant as an indicator of running water as its roots require year round moisture. The wood is extremely decay resistant under water. Some Canadian Natives used the wood to make bows, snowshoes and fish nets. Since its smoke has no flavor, it has also been used for smoking meat. More recently the wood has become popular among guitar manufacturers for its ‘bright tone.'

Native Americans are said to have used a poultice made from the bark to treat burns and scrapes. They also used the inner bark in treatments for stomach irritations. Blackfeet Indians used the bark infusion to treat tuberculosis and lymphatic disorders and, in fact, science has shown red alder compounds are effective against tumors.

It is also beneficial to the soil because it provides nitrogen for other species.


What I Already Knew: This is one of the loveliest onions I have ever seen. Clearly the Nodding Onion has a lot of class. It grows from a bulb(I found these specimens on an east facing slope just north of the lodge) has a smooth stem which is round and leafless reaching 6 to 20 inches in height.

Crooking the top of this stem a flowerhead consisting of individual white or pinkish flowers. Certainly the flowers' most distinctive feature are their six yellow-tipped stamens which protrude beyond the flowers' three petals and three petal-like sepals.

What I Recently Learned: Boasting more than lovely flowers, this plant is a true onion. Somewhat mild and sweet flavored when cooked, it is strong when raw. The lovely heads make a nice addition to any salad bowl. Medicinally the plant's juice was given to Native American children for hives, croup, colds, and sore throat. A poultice of chewed plants was applied to the chest for similar complaints as well as sores and swelling. And before moth balls, the entire plant was used to repel moths and moles with the juice being used to repel mosquitoes and other biting insects (although, in a pinch, I've had less than great success using chive juice to repel these pests).


What I Already Knew: We have a variety of willows around Elk Lake. I will attempt to identify three in this post - although the identification photos and descriptions available on the web left me pulling my hair in frustration!

Like several others, this will has lance shaped leaves with a shiny top surface. It grows 9 to 18 feet tall, requires high moisture and is shade tolerant while preferring full sunlight. It grows well alongside other willow species.

What I Recently Learned: Willows are unique in that they develop roots along the entire portion of a buried stem cutting within 10 - 15 days after planting. Thus they do not need to be rooted before planting although unrooted cuttings do have a higher mortality rate. Willow thickets are often used for erosion control.


What I Already Knew: This plant does not live right here (although it is common in western and central Montana). This is because it prefers - 4000 - 5000 elevation. It produces bouquets of lovely white flowers in June. It grows 3 to 16 feet tall. Reddish-brown stems have alternate long narrow leaves with fine toothed edges.

What I Recently Learned: Although bitter and mealy, its berries are high in Vitamin C and have been used to prevent scurvy, as a gargle to treat colds, or used to remedy hemorrhoids. The tree's wood is dense and is used for carving and turning to make tool handles and walking sticks. Its thin bark does not survive fire well. Some ancient peoples considered the tree good protection against evil. For this reason Druid staffs were usually made from this wood. Today the fruit is occasionally used to make wine or a jelly to use with cold game or wild fowl.


What I Already Knew: Cones have unique 3-lobed brackets sticking out between scales. The cones hang down rather than point up as in a true fir. Douglas Fir wood is known for its strength and is a desired wood for construction. It is also the most commonly marketed Christmas tree. It is certainly one of the most lovely evergreen trees in our area.

What I Recently Learned: True firs are most closely related to cedars. However, Douglas Fir is not a true fir as it is actually of the pine family. Scientists struggling to classify the species have created its own sub-class: Pseudotsuga (False Hemlock).

Medicinal the resin obtained from the tree's trunk has been used to treat cuts, burns, wounds, and skin ailments. It has also been used to treat coughs and sore throats. An infusion of the green bark has been used to treat stomach problems. An infusion of young sprouts is used by some to treat colds. An infusion of the twigs or shoots has uses for treating kidney & bladder problems. Young shoots have placed in shoe tips to prevent athletes foot and foot perspiration. People have even soaked the young shoots in cold water to make mouthwash.


What I Already Knew: (Same disclaimer applies :-) This willow shares habitat well with other trees and shrubs although it does tend to form a thicket. It is commonly seen in the Teton area. It is also called Silver Willow and will reach about 15 feet tall.

What I Recently Learned: Willow bark has been chewed since ancient times to reduce inflamation and fever. Today in China and Europe it is used for treating low back pain and osteoarthritis, joint inflamation, and headaches. While pain relief from its use comes slower than aspirin, it seems to last longer. In SW Montana this willow is said to make up 11.2% of some cattle herd's diet.


What I Already Knew: A small tree, this willow only reaches 10 to 20 feet tall. It has smooth reddish bark and 1 to 3 inch long oblong shaped leaves, sparingly toothed, a dull green above with distinct veins and hairy underneath. It prefers stream borders. Warblers, flycatchers and other songbirds make their homes in these plants.

What I Recently Learned: It was named after Michael Schuck Bebb first person to formally study this species. It is also known as Grey Willow because of the bark color. It is the most common of the ‘Diamond Willows' - a species which produces reddish brown ‘diamonds' of wood from cankers. Artists particularly enjoy using diamond willow branches for carving highlighting the light and dark woods The wood is used for furniture, canes, and picture frames. Some weave the smaller shoots into chairs and baskets.


What I Already Knew- The staminode takes a variety of forms in the different species; while typically a long straight filament extending to the mouth of the corolla, some are longer and extremely hairy, giving the general appearance of an open mouth with a fuzzy tongue protruding and inspiring the common name beardtongue. The 5 - 15 inch stem has narrow, hairy leaves which may have toothed edges. Flower colors ran from light lavender to dark violet. The three lower lobes have purplish veins which work to guide nectar seeking insects into the flowers' interior. Prefers dry rocky soils and sagebrush slopes

What I Recently Learned: This plant grows in the foothills and mid elevatons in the mountains of north Idaho and adjacent Montana, British Columbia and Alberta. In most of its range it is rare or uncommon - which I find shocking because I have found it in lush profusion in many places around Elk Lake. It is a perennial. Native American's used Penstemon roots to relieve toothache.

So, while the snow carpets the ground around Elk Lake, these pictures remind me the flowers are merely resting for awhile. Come next spring and summer (and even into fall), their lovely colors will paint a beautiful mosiac around my lakeside home.

Lady of the Lake


The "Sweeter" Side Of Life

Some would say cooking is my life. They might be right. One way or the other, for some time I have talked and dreamed about doing a post about food! I have done posts on things we have made - most recently all the pies we created for Nick & Sara's June 2011 wedding. But an idea has been rattling around in my brain to share a recipe - along with photos and the techniques which combine to make it great. Furthermore, as needed, I find it fascinating to learn and share why certain techniques work and why others do not.

For my grand opening, I will share a new recipe. This recipe is one I developed from another recipe. Living at Elk Lake, if I do not have the proper ingredients, I have to improvise. I have learned to stock my pantry shelves to bulging, bending, burdened excess. Nonetheless, sometimes I have to get creative. Thankfully I now have a decent idea of what will work and what will not work!

Today's Recipe: Apple - Cranberry Muffins. I am well aware that if you Google "Apple Cranberry Muffins" you will get over two pages of recipes. This is the MAJOR problem (in my opinion) with our electronic age. How do I know which recipe to use? How do I know which is the best?

While I will not claim to have the ‘best' recipe, I do not think this recipe will not let you down. So, without further ado:

Apple-Cranberry Muffins

Makes 12 to 16 Muffins

3 2/3 cups pastry flour, sifted
1 1/3 TB baking powder
1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
8 TB butter, chilled, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 1/3 cups Baker's Sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature, beaten
15 oz applesauce (I prefer the homemade chunky kind)
1 cup Craisins

Position an oven rack in the center and preheat your oven to 400 degrees. (If using regular muffin pans, brush the cup insides and top of with butter. If using silicone pans, skip this step *more on this to follow*.)

Sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Beat the butter in the bowl of a free-standing mixer with the paddle attachment on high speed until creamy (about 1 minute). Gradually beat in the sugar. Continue to beat, scraping the bowl often, until the mixture is very light in color and texture (about 5 minutes).

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Reduce mixer speed to low and add the applesauce. The mixture make take on a curdled look. In thirds, beat in the flour mixture, scraping the bowl sides often. Mix until smooth. Add the Craisins. Increase the speed to high and beat about 15 seconds until the batter has a slight sheen.

Using an ice-cream scoop (about 2½ inches in diameter), divide the batter between 12 to 16 buttered muffin tins. Bake for 10 minutes. Do not open oven. Reduce heat to 375 degrees and cook until tops are browning and skewer inserted into center comes out clean (about 15 minutes).

Cool in cups for 10 minutes. Remove to wire racks. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

*I can not help but plug my new favorite cookware. Silicone! Before a friend introduced me to this amazing kitchen tool, I assumed those flimsy ‘molds' were plastic (and we all know to avoid cooking in plastic!) However, silicone bakeware is made from silica - the same ingredient in glass bakeware. And while removing baked goods from glass or metal baking dishes can some times be a nightmare, removing the same items from silicone baking dishes is pure delight! Furthermore, silicone can change the entire ‘look' of your baked goods as you can see above.

PLEASE NOTE: Some of the photos on this page do not belong to me. Thus I ask you to NOT copy any of them.

Now, back to the recipe. Like I said, the ‘why' is half the fun. So, I want to highlight a few things which make this recipe unique and why the recipe benefits from these specific ingredients and processes.

These muffins call for creaming butter and sugar. While this is not common to muffin recipes, homemade cakes often require this process. My response: ‘Why?'

Creaming butter and sugar incorporates the maximum amount of air bubbles into the fat. The trapped air expands in the baking process to result in a light textured end product. When a recipe calls for creaming, do not skip this step.

As you can see in the butter image above, you want your fat cold! If the butter is warm, the milk solids will separate and will not hold the air bubbles. Instead of starting with the room temperature butter often called for in many recipes which use the creaming process, this recipe softens and warms the cold butter slightly by beating the butter before adding the sugar.

If the butter is warm, the milk solids will separate rendering them incapable of holding the air bubbles. Even cold butter can warm too much during the beating process. The regular bowl scraping required by this recipe keeps portions of the fat from getting too warm.

When your butter and sugar are properly creamed, it will look like this. As you can see the mixer's paddle will leave distinct marks, the color will lighten noticeably, and the consistency will be very smooth.

This recipe calls for Baker's Sugar. Also known as superfine sugar, Baker's Sugar has a finer crystal which distributes more evenly throughout the batter and results in a smoother textured finished product.

If you do not have superfine sugar, you can make your own. Whirl regular sugar in your food processor until it breaks down into smaller particles (this does not take long).

After beating in the eggs, it is time to add the flour. Again this recipe calls for a ‘special' flour - Pastry Flour. If you have done much baking, you probably have Cake Flour on your shelf. However, Pastry Flour is a somewhat uncommon ingredient. So, what is it? Is it necessary? What if I don't have it on my shelf?

Pastry flour is a higher starch, lower protein flour most similar to Cake Flour. It is used when a very tender product is desired. If you have Cake Flour but do not have Pastry Flour, do not assume Cake Flour will provide the same result. While Cake Flour is a better substitute than All-Purpose Flour, you can make your own Pastry Flour by combining half Cake Flour and half All-Purpose Flour.

Now it's time to bake and eat. But, the fresh baked muffins in their silicone molds look too good to eat - almost.

Actually the final product looks simply delightful - and, it is pretty good, even if I say so myself. However, I want to point out how nice they look. This is another thing I really like about my new silicone bakeware. Look how evenly browned. Look at the perfect sides - no holes from batter stuck to the pan. No tacky paper cup to ruin the overall picture. Just pretty muffins which look as good as they taste.

Thanks for visiting my kitchen. If you enjoyed the post and wish to see more, drop me a note. If you try the recipe and find it to your liking (or not), send me a message. If silicone baking pans interest you and you'd like more information, let me know.

Lady of the Lake


A Moose Comes To Call

Moose are a regular part of our lives in the Centennial Valley. Thus I was not at all surprised to read the following on the Greater Yellowstone Resource Guide: "The Greater Yellowstone region hosts some of the most productive Shiras Moose photography, viewing and hunting in the west." While numerous issues have had a negative impact on the Yellowstone National Park moose population, the Centennial Valley's moose population remains strong. However, while they are regular winter visitors on the resort grounds and around the lake, they do not usually venture as close the rest of the year.

So, when I heard Bo barking early one morning this past September, I did NOT expect to see a moose coming in the gate. Yet this guy seemed deaf to the dog's warning. In fact, while he paused as though reading our sign (See the yellow oval to the left of the moose? It read "Open By Reservation Only"), he slowly continued in the gate.

A few feet inside, he paused. Perhaps he wondered whether his 'reservations' were up to date. Perhaps he finally heard Bo. Perhaps he just did not see a lady worth his time.

While I can only speculate what might have been going on in his head, he certainly looked to be deliberating his options. Looking right. Looking left. Ears on full alert.

Bo kept his distance (he is 'moose smart'), but did not quiet down. I continued to hide beside the lodge (but I doubt he was unaware of my presence). And, no lady moose materialized to tempt him in further.

Something just didn't feel right (which, quite frankly, made me quite happy. A fully adorned bull moose sliding into rut is not what I want hanging around my yard). So, in the blink of an eye he whirled and headed out the gate.

Clearly this moose was no fool. A road leading directly into the refuge. A whiff of the ladies on the breeze. Our morning visitor wasted no time hitting the south road.

Who knows what goes on in a moose's mind? Why stop for a dip? Because he is a moose and moose like water is my best guess. When Mr. Moose headed south, my hubby jumped on the ATV and went looking for more photo opps. Just outside the resort boundaries he found our visitor wading in the lake's shallows.

The more time we spent around this guy, the more we were convinced he had one thing and only one thing on his mind - the ladies! While my hubby clicked away, Mr. Moose drew closer and closer - again apparently oblivious to his close proximity to a two-legged critter. Finally hubby started his ATV - maybe he would hear what he appeared not to see. Still the moose advanced!

Finally he seemed to wake from his stupor. "What is that thing blocking my path? I don't like his look." So he changed direction, heading west to the shore.

Even a moose can only take so much attention. "These paparazzi are nothing short of annoying! Can't a guy have any peace? This photo opp is definitely OVER!" With that, Mr. Moose swung south then headed west over the ridge and, eventually I am sure, into the refuge.

Just another 'normal' day at Elk Lake. I must admit, I just can't get too much of this. What a privilege to share my extended backyard with an animal that beautiful - that majestic - that unique!

Lady of the Lake